Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Mark Shelley: What does it mean for the team, school, and community to send the team to three straight championship weekends?
Benji Parkes: To be sending a boy’s soccer team to three straight Final Four weekends and seven out of the last eight years really shows the amount of time and energy that the community has invested in this program throughout the years. Many of our boys do not play soccer year-round, but when they do play, they’re getting coached by some of the best community members around. It all starts with our recreation department and what Steve Colt was able to create, and now Pat Tyrell has done a fantastic job of continuing. Steve Smith is also a huge contributor when it comes to coaching our youth as he finds a way to coach a couple teams every season; fall, winter, and spring. Once the kids get to the modified level, they’ve been coached by the likes of Dan Cheatham, Eric Stickel, our modified coach Brian Streb, and our JV coach Jamie Saroka. By the time they get to me, our focus is squarely on how to prepare so that each team, each year, has the opportunity to play on the last weekend of the season. But we also couldn’t do it without the support of the community; from our fundraisers throughout the year to supporting us at home and on the road. It’s always nice to see a great turnout for an evening game under the lights on Sobus.
MS: When did the team start to realize that they had a great chance at getting back to championship weekend?
BP: Coming off of our success last year, I didn’t really know how this team would respond to the pressure of getting back to championship weekend. With a huge target on our back as defending state champs, we knew we would see everyone’s best game. We had plenty of conversations early in the year about our expectations and making sure that every player understood the amount of work and dedication it would take to get back to Middletown. We took this season as a completely new season, a new group of guys, and we had to go out and make our own history. So far, we’ve been successful in what we’ve set out to accomplish.
MS: How much confidence did a close win over rival Trumansburg in the Section IV title game give to your team?
BP: It’s always fun to play your school rival in a high-pressure game like the Section IV title game because there is so much on the line and because we beat them in the regular season. You always hate to lose that decisive game. We came out and played our game, got the one goal we needed to advance, and moved on to our regional opponent. I will say, Trumansburg is a very classy program with one of the best coaches leading that program. I’ve played and coached many games against Coach Hodge and Trumansburg, and they’ve always been well prepared and ready to play. Fortunately, we were able to handle them in both of our matchups this year.
MS: How important was it to have many returning players who had won a state title in 2017 and had been in tough playoff situations before?
BP: It is certainly important and nice to lean on those players in times like these when the stage gets a little bigger, but at the same time, it’s a completely different team, different personality, and different dynamic when it comes to preparing for games. We try to use it to our advantage and understand that we need to use our experience in a positive way while staying level-headed.
MS: How have you embraced coaching the Bobcats, and how great has the success been for you as a coach?
BP: I have truly enjoyed my three years as head coach, but I also have a lot of people that have helped me throughout the years. Growing up in the program, my familiarity with the program, the coaching staff, and the day to day operation has made for an easier transition. I would not be where I am today if it was not for Coach Heck. He taught me in school, coached me on the field, and was the best mentor I could have asked for. He built this program from the ground up, and I’m just excited to be able to continue his legacy of success of the boy’s soccer program.
I also have to send a thank you to my two assistant coaches, both who volunteer their time every day since August to be with this team. David Schlesinger has been assisting since 2004 and has been an instrumental part of the boy’s soccer program with Coach Heck and myself. Andrew Troisi jumped on board this fall, and he has brought so much from his previous playing and coaching days and it has not only benefited our players, but he has helped me grow as well. I really don’t know where this program would be if it wasn’t for the support systems that we have in place.
MS: How has the continued success of the team helped to ensure that future teams will be just as, if not more, competitive?
BP: It drives each and every team that steps on the field for me. Every team wants to be better than the last, and it’s a fantastic attitude to have because it really allows for growth and development, even at the highest of levels. Every kid that wears a Lansing uniform has the goal of making it to Middletown now. Through hard work and dedication to the sport over the last 10 to 15 years of their lives, their dreams have become, and hopefully continue to become, reality. I also feel that we do a great job of incorporating our youth programs and modified teams into our varsity program by allowing them to play with us. This helps build that connection between the present team and the next generation of boys soccer players.
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